Attentive readers will recall our discussion of Sting’s efforts in preventing the world from perishing by nuclear fire, viz. “Russians”. But he wasn’t the only 80s pop star concerned about our planet’s inevitable doom. Also seeking to forestall hideous mass death was hairy-pitted German pop starlet Nena, whose “99 Red Balloons” posed a pertinent and worrying question to the men with their fingers on the button. To wit: “What safeguards can you take against 99 harmless children’s balloons being mistaken for a deadly nuclear attack amd plunging Earth into a boiling cauldron of atomic fury?”

From the relative safety of our post-Cold War world, we may find it easy to mock this question. After all, Nena seems not to have twigged that a balloon, red or otherwise, looks fuck all like a nuclear warhead. It is several hundred times smaller and floats in a semi-random pattern at low altitudes and inconsequential speed, whereas your ICBM is a big phallic thing which roars through the upper atmosphere at hundreds of miles an hour. In summary: missile – dangerous. Balloon – not dangerous. Even the most gung-ho of military minds is unlikely to say “This is it boys, this is war”, when confronted with 99 floating red balls, especially since if left be for a few days these ‘weapons’ will turn into 99 shrivelled red rubber foreskins.

So yes, easy enough to scoff. But maybe those cold warriors knew something we don’t. After all, these balloons are made of stern stuff. You see, after an apocalyptic worldwide confrontation caused by the balloon/missile confusion, one of them survives (as does Nena, rather unjustly given whose fault the whole thing is). It strikes me as fairly implausible that with the human race and all its works having perished, a small spheroid of very thin rubber would manage to escape, so we must seek another explanation. Clearly ‘balloon’ was a codeword for ‘deadly atom-powered Zeppelin’, and Nena’s plangent prayer for peace is in fact a secret cry for re-armament of the glorious Fatherland. Ja!